My Amputations Themes
by Clarence Major

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Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

My Amputations is a metafictional novel questioning the nature of fiction and the perception of reality. It combines bildungsroman techniques with the picaresque tradition of an episodic narrative about the travels and adventures of a rogue or criminal. My Amputations is also postmodern in its self-reflexive concern with the fictional depiction of reality. The novel experiments with characters, plot, and action by refusing to use realist or naturalistic techniques. Embedded in its surrealistic flow of disconnected episodes are references to the process of fiction, the conflict between truth and imagination, and the relation of the author to the text.

My Amputations is written in the third person by an unreliable narrator who refuses to conform to the dramatic verities of time, place, and action. Mason represents himself through his work in progress as an unreliable character whose dreams contradict the narrative presented in the main body of the text. Since readers have no idea who Mason is masquerading as, if he in fact is masquerading, readers are often bewildered. The last half of the novel confirms Mason’s growing despair at his quest for meaning and identity. Mason is self-educated and gives many lectures, yet readers know little about what he says or thinks or writes. His growing paranoia focuses on his fellowship agreement, his search for an impostor, and suspicion of the System. The abstract quality of his journey further questions the traditional linear narrative.

The portrait that emerges is of a very troubled African American man torn in two directions. His Anglo-Saxon muse, Celt CuRoi, represents half of the equation. Within her domain fall all the references to the Euro-Americentric world of Mason’s imagination. She provided inspiration in youth, but when Mason starts his European search for African American roots, she can no longer help. Within the second half of the equation lies Mason’s identity as a black man. His picaresque adventures attempt to reconcile these two worlds and reveal his African heritage. In Europe, Mason dreams continuously of being kidnapped, tortured, and attacked. He fears that his masquerade as the Author will be exposed, and he imagines himself about to be exterminated. He believes that the foundation controls him and that everybody he meets is part of the conspiracy. He drinks too much, blacks out frequently, and lives in a hazy world of fear.

This narrative conundrum frustrates readers intentionally, bringing into question the nature of the text and questioning accepted modes of perception. Mason also disappoints readers, particularly when he sidesteps intellectual conflict. This is aggravating in the African section, when Mason is asked important questions about Black Nationalism,...

(The entire section is 663 words.)